Posts Tagged ‘Felicity Jones’

Whew. The Complete Jane Austen has been saved by the charming performances of J.J. Feild and Felicity Jones as Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. Had PBS opted to follow ITV’s tepid Persuasion with the very problematic Mansfield Park, they would likely have lost scores of viewers who might not have returned for a third dose of another truncated adaptation of a Jane Austen novel.

Not knowing what to expect, I watched my preview DVD with some trepidation, only to lose myself in this sparkling and delightful adaptation. I have no illusions when it comes to comparing a 90-minute video to a complete novel written by a master writer: in my opinion the novel wins hands down every time. No debate. But director Jon Jones made the most of his short video time, combining dialogue with visual clues in such a deft way that one comes away from the movie feeling almost satisfied with this retelling of Jane’s gothic parody. Keep in mind that, as with all these adaptations, the subtleties and complexities of subplots and supporting character were scarcely given the passing time of day.

Be that as it may, the scene in which Catherine Morland and Mrs. Allen first enter the Lower Assembly Rooms in Bath demonstrates the director’s brilliant visual touches. Romance and regency authors frequently describe the “crush” at an assembly ball. This scene SHOWS it, with Mrs. Allen and Catherine elbowing their way through the crowd in dimly lit rooms and halls and doorways. One can almost smell the candle smoke and feel the heat of bodies pressing against each other, and smell the sweat of the dancers as they move energetically in a confined space. In her novel, Jane Austen took an enormous time describing Northanger Abbey both inside and out. Thankfully, the camera can show these descriptions in minutes, using interior and exterior shots as backdrops. For those of us who live outside of England, the scenery and sets alone make this production worth watching.

The casting was superb. J.J. Feild was smart, charming, and appropriately “almost handsome” as Jane described Henry Tilney. The adorable Felicity Jones was believable in her role as a naïve and gullible young woman who allowed her imagination to run rampant. In her fantasy scenes, with her thick dark hair flowing freely, Felicity convincingly resembled a lush and delectable maid in distress. Cary Mulligan as the flashy, brassy Isabella Thorpe nearly stole all her scenes. Liam Cunningham as General Tilney hit all the right villain notes, and William Beck was satisfyingly slimy as John Thorpe. My only major quibble with the casting was of Catherine Walker, whose drab Eleanor Tilney seemed to dissolve into the woodwork. Click here to view the characters and read a short bio about them.
As with recent Jane Austen adaptations, liberties were taken with the plot. Jane never described Isabella naked in bed after making love to Captain Tilney, nor does she have Catherine fantasize herself nude in front of Henry. Those who know me well know that I am no prude, but I attribute such scenes to the influence of Andrew Davies, who seems to think that a sexed up Jane Austen production is appropriate and right. Frankly, that’s a man’s point of view, and in this respect Mr. Jon Jones has sunk to the same level, thinking that sex will sell Jane to a new audience. Those of us who are comfortable using both sides of our brains know that Jane needs no such obvious and infantile interpretations to win fans over. Her words are good enough.

Speaking of fans, I am convinced this delightful production will influence many a young viewer to head towards their libraries to read a Jane Austen novel for the first time. And that thought gives me great pleasure. If you missed Northanger Abbey because of Iron Chef, check your local listing. Many PBS stations, such as the one in Richmond, have placed it on their schedule for a second night.

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In Jane Austen’s words, Henry Tilney, the hero of Northanger Abbey, seemed to be about “four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it.”

In addition he came from a respectable family in Gloucestershire. A second son, he had just recently been ordained. Even more attractive than his respectability are his sense of humor, his close relationship with his sister, and the fact that he can make such insightful statements as this one:

Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half.”

Click here to read Oh, Henry, a wonderful post about Mr. Tilney. Austenprose also quotes our fabulous Henry. No wonder our young Catherine lost her heart to this charming but wise young man.

Catherine, NA’s heroine, is sweet, adorable, and unworldly. As she reads her favorite gothic novels, she can imagine herself in the same perilous situations as the fictional heroines. Her imagination is so vivid that her unsupported suspicions about Henry’s mother’s death places her in an awkward situation with the young man who has stolen her heart. Catherine’s infatuation with Henry is such that her flattery flatters his ego, and he starts to fall in love with her. When General Tilney boots Catherine unceremoniously out of Northanger Abbey, unchaperoned and in the middle of the night, Henry’s eyes are opened to his father’s unpardonable behavior. He sees that in one sense, Catherine was right about his father’s monstrous behavior.

As for Catherine, who in this world has not met a young coltish miss who suddenly grows up and fits this description by Jane?:

At fifteen, appearances were mending; she began to curl her hair and long for balls; her complexion improved, her features were softened by plumpness and colour, her eyes gained more animation, and her figure more consequence. Her love of dirt gave way to an inclination for finery, and she grew clean as she grew smart; she had now the pleasure of sometimes hearing her father and mother remark on her personal improvement. “Catherine grows quite a good-looking girl – she is almost pretty today,” were words which caught her ears now and then; and how welcome were the sounds! To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.

In fact, these two characters are so likable, that one tends to forget that Jane wrote Northanger Abbey as a spoof of the Gothic novel so wildly popular at the turn of the 19th century. For an excellent review of the upcoming Masterpiece Classic presentation this Sunday at 9 p.m. EST, visit Remotely Connected and read Heather Laurence’s and Natalie Zee Drieu’s excellent thoughts on this film adaptation.

Read my other Northanger Abbey posts here.

Update: Arti just reminded me of the Andrew Davies interview yesterday, which I forgot to include. Click here to enter Arti’s site, Ripple Effects, and read the interview. You can also find Mr. Davies NPR interview on Jane Austen Today. Click here to listen.

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These days it is not uncommon to see prominent cleavage shown in films set during the Regency era, most recently in ITV’s Mansfield Park, where the actress Billie Piper in the role of Fannie Price is dressed to show off her two best assets. Aside from her loose and riotous hair, with which I also find exception, this particular Fanny Price fails to exhibit in her daytime attire the modesty of character for which she is famously known. I understand the producers deliberately chose a livelier actress to play this rather stiff and morally upright heroine, but in my opinion they went overboard in “undressing” her.

In The Mirror of Graces a Lady of Distinction writes: “Indeed, in all cases, a modest reserve is essential to the perfection of feminine attraction.” The author goes on to caution young women to “throw a shadow over her yet-unimpaired charms, than to hold them in the light…” In other words, modesty was the key for daytime attire. Bosoms were to be entirely covered, and if the dresses were designed with a low scoop neckline, they were “filled in with a chemisette (a dickey made of thin material) or fichu (a thin scarf tucked into a low neckline). Unlike today, cleavage was NOT a daytime accessory.” Rakehell

In the image above, Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) is shown in proper modest attire; her friend Isabella Thorpe (Carey Mulligan) is not. One imagines that the director and costume designer hoped to demonstrate the difference between the young ladies’ temperaments through visual cues, but I found this inaccuracy to historical detail distracting.

Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility clung to a much more accurate picture of the modesty women displayed in those times.

A woman’s assets could be revealed during the evening, however. Evening gowns allowed even a girl on the marriage mart to bare her bosom and arms, but she was also required to wear long evening gloves that came up high or over the elbow. In fact, James Gillray famously poked fun at the evening fashions of the day, depicting a slut dressed in evening attire without gloves. Shameless!

Despite Gillray’s satiric viewpoint, a young lady of quality would only dare to go so far and then would step no further, as shown in the rather chaste evening gown from Vintage Textiles below and in the fronticepiece of The Mirror of Graces.

Neoclassic silk evening gown with metallic trim, 1800Evening Gowns, Fronticepiece of The Mirror of Graces

Read more about Regency Fashion on this Jane Austen Centre site: A Tour of Regency Fashion: Day and Evening Dress

In addition, click here in order to read all my posts on Regency Fashion.

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